Given recent events, I hope you are extremely uncomfortable, and ready to take action.
Being uncomfortable is good. We white folks should be uncomfortable, and especially so if we are raising black children. We should not be dismissive or defensive. We should recognize that the slurs, racism, and worse that have happened to so many black children, men, and women can and will also happen to our beloved children.
As an American, as a white person, as the parent of transracially adopted children, I am uncomfortable, sad, grieving, confused, and at a loss about the multiple acts of violence in Louisiana, Texas, and Minnesota. Add hate-based political rhetoric, plus the onslaught of videos, tweets, hashtags and blog posts, and the whole thing is overwhelming.
We must learn to become comfortable in the difficult, challenging conversations about these recent violent events. We must have these conversations for the sake of our children. I get that it’s hard, and we have to support each other as we move through these hard times. (And if we white people find things exhausting, what must it be like to live the racism and conflict on a daily basis as a person of color?)
So what do we do?
For one thing, we must understand the difference between #AllLIvesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter. Saying #AllLivesMatter is an anesthetized, self-soothing way of negating the raw realities of life in America.
Of course #AllLivesMatter. Saying that, however, dismisses the reality of black people’s history and lives. Black women have had the right to vote in all 50 states only since 1964. Black men are disproportionately represented in prison. Black children are disproportionately suspended from school, even in kindergarten. My black granddaughter was told by her white third grade classmate that the classmate’s grandpa would shoot a black person who tried to enter his home. That was the explanation as to why my granddaughter would not be going over to play at her classmate’s house. I’ve witnessed too much, on an academic and personal level, to be able to blithely say #AllLivesMatter. It’s a phrase that slams the door, loudly and firmly, on the genuine, hard, uncomfortable conversations that must take place, if our country is ever going to change.
#BlackLivesMatter: Understand and be able to speak out about this.
Uncomfortable conversations are a good first step. Reading essays and books that challenge, disturb, and rile us is good. Attending meetings, in the name of racial and social justice, where we are outsiders and uncomfortable is also good. Here are a few thoughts.
First, be intentional in seeking out writing and information on racism from black people and other people of color. White people can have a voice, but we are not the experts on racism; the value of our advice is mitigated by our privilege. Starting points might be Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson. There are lots more.
Recognize that it is not the responsibility or obligation of black people to educate us white people about race.
Second, if in this last week you did not talk with your black friends about how they are doing and feeling, you may need to accept that you don’t have close black friends. And you should, if you are raising black children.
Third, step out of your comfort zone further and attend meetings of black community organizers, meetings where you as a white person may be asked to defer to the voices and experiences of black people. To be silent. To move to the side, and listen.
It could be a great opportunity to see what it feels like to be treated differently because of your race.
If there are not any black community organizers where you live, pause and think about the role models and racial mirrors available to your child. Is he or she genuinely well-prepared for being black in America?
Additional General Resources:
The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place.
— Marian Wright Edelman